Reflections on our RMAS conference

Our Role of the Media in Arab Societies at Zayed University in June was a resounding success. Journalists and experts from the region gathered to discuss the impact of media in the Arab world, the difficulties of reporting in this region, and the effects of the new media landscape on these issues.

Click on the video above to watch segments from our night panel that featured Emirati columnist Mishaal al Gergawi, CNN Arabic’s Caroline Faraj, the Brookings Institute’s Shadi Hamid and Al Arabiya’s Najib Bencherif. We had a lively debate about self-censorship in the Arab press, the proper role of journalists in the region and even discussed whether reporters should strive for objectivity. I plan to use this video and the other sessions to launch classroom discussions with my journalism students.

On the day of the conference, we were honored by an invitation from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research. He invited us to his palace and spoke to us about the importance of our conference. Sheikh Nahyan said that new technologies meant the media can no longer control messages completely. He illustrated this point by mentioning that cell-phone photos of him at a recent event had quickly spread over social media.

The official state news agency, WAM, quoted the Sheikh as saying: “This technology will change the world.” And he added “that it would also help to make Governments more responsive.”

Sheikh Nahyan went on to say that the media owed it to the public to promote “understanding and tolerance.”

Well said.

By | August 23rd, 2011|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Oblique reporting on public decency laws in the UAE

This article from The National highlights a problem that needs to be addressed in this country — rigid public decency laws. However, the article contains a couple of glaring omissions that should be noted.

The first two graphs read:

Public decency laws need to be reformed so that punishments can more accurately reflect the severity of the offence, several judges have said.

Sentencing guidelines for such offences leave no room for discretion, they said, warning that a misinterpreted hand gesture could lead to an expatriate being deported.

The article goes on to lay out specific criticisms from judges about the law’s failure to allow for judicial discretion. Anyone found guilty of a public indecency must be deported, no matter the situation. More serious crimes such as burglary do not necessarily end in deportation.

However, the article does’t name the judges who have complained about the laws. It merely cites “one lower court judge,” a “second judge,” and a “higher court judge.” The article does not explain why they chose to grant anonymity to these judges nor offer any information about their identity (e.g., jurisdiction or type of court). These criticisms would carry far more weight if the names of the three judges were included in the article. If the judges didn’t want their names used, then the article should have stated this clearly and offered a reason for their reticence.

But an even larger omission is the biggest case surrounding this issue right now. Earlier this month, British surgeon Dr Nunoo-Mensah was arrested in Dubai on charges that he made an offensive gesture to another driver. Dr. Nunoo-Mensah says he was simply raising his hands in frustration. The British press covered the case widely. According to this report in a Ghana newspaper, the doctor was released after two week’s in custody. His father is the National Security Advisor to the government of Ghana.

The avoidance of mentioning Dr. Nunoo-Mensah’s case points to the subtle self-censorship that pervades the UAE press. Drawing too much attention to the case must be considered taboo, so The National tackles it obliquely from a different angle. Perhaps this is the best they can do, given the realities of reporting in the UAE. But hopefully, a future article could address the case more directly and without the critical judges obscured by a veil of anonymity.

By | May 26th, 2011|Uncategorized|0 Comments

News media, credibility and verification

This report from Al Jazeera’s media criticism show “The Listening Post” focuses on the reporting of Osama bin Laden’s death, including all the inaccurate information that dribbled out over the first few days. My Emirati journalism students found it quite helpful in thinking about the importance of verification and multiple sources in order to produce credible journalism.

By | May 25th, 2011|Uncategorized|0 Comments

How far can Arab news channels report the news?

Interesting coverage from Magda Abu-Fadil on the Arab Media Forum, held last week in Dubai. She provides a nugget of information about the limits of coverage of Arab news channels like Al Arabiya. The network, which broadcasts in Arabic but features an English language website and Twitter feed, is owned by the Saudi television conglomerate Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC). It serves as an alternative to Al Jazeera, based in Qatar.

Abu-Fadil writes:

The lively discussion turned to media freedoms in the Arab world and whether channels like Al Arabiya and Aljazeera were allowed to report on sensitive issues in their home countries.Dubai-based Al Arabiya is Saudi-owned while Aljazeera is based in Doha and funded by the Qatari government.

“We can cover Saudi Arabia, up to a point,” Al Khatib said, noting that media worldwide must operate within certain parameters. “There’s a romantic view that media aren’t courageous enough.”

He also said owners had interests and could take certain risks but that going too far meant jeopardizing advertising revenue and the possible loss of viewers, not to mention journalists losing their jobs if they ruffled the wrong feathers.

Interesting. I’d quibble with the insistance that all media outlets have limits imposed upon them. That’s true to a certain point. However, because of the absence of legal protections for the media in this part of the world, Arab media outlets practice far more self-censorship than in most other regions.

By | May 24th, 2011|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Shortage of libraries in the UAE

Buried at the end of a story about Emirati reading habits:

Nora Khouri, an Emirati mother who participated in the workshop, said she tried to encourage her children to read, but there was a “shortage of libraries and factors that attract children to reading.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t find a library that I could take my children to. And we know libraries which ban children from entering,” she said.

No libraries? Banning children from entering them? That’s scandalous.

By | March 20th, 2011|Uncategorized|0 Comments